by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

If you’ve been a coach, teacher, parent of a teenager (I’ve been all of these), or anyone else whose job it is to “motivate” others to do something, you know that applying external forces (rewards, punishment, threats) can be quite effective in many instances — in the short term. But if you want your athletes, students, kids, or employees to be their best at whatever the task is, ultimately they have to want to do it for themselves. Somehow in the last decade that very simple, universally true concept has been lost on many health promoters.


What began as an enticement (cash or gift cards) to get more people to complete a health risk appraisal has morphed into elaborate systems of financial rewards/penalties for wellness participation and then, ultimately, outcomes (get healthy… or else). But the wasted money is the least expensive part of this failed experiment. The true cost of making something as deeply personal as health choices about money is a culture where it’s more difficult for people to want to do something good for themselves (just tell me what I need to do to get the money).

If your management has been wise enough not to be seduced by the empty promises of cash for health improvement, you have the chance to create a fertile environment where individuals, groups, and the entire organization can see intrinsic motivation flourish. Here’s how:

  • Make it personal. Stop hiding behind your health portal and get out and evangelize for your cause, up and down the organization. Bring lots of testimonials and case studies where you highlight real people and how changing health habits has made a difference in their work and their life.
  • Outline your value proposition. Write down the big picture benefits of your wellness program as well as the specific value for each intervention and share it often. Focus on culture, teamwork, quality of life, relationships, energy, productivity and leave the clinical stuff to the epidemiologist. Your mission is greater than the collective BMI of your population.
  • Connect the dots. If your wellness program is an island — unconnected to the employer’s other vital functions — you’re missing a huge opportunity to affect the culture. Get intimately involved in recruitment, training, safety, community affairs, and other areas where health and vitality are a natural fit.
  • Encourage champions and helpers. Recruit your successful participants to be ambassadors for wellness. Teach them to advocate without haranguing. Recognize them among their peers and offer your support for other appropriate health initiatives that don’t originate from your wellness program. A side benefit is that nothing cements good health habits more than the desire to be a role model.

Change your mindset about wellness — from something you do to an atmosphere you create. People are ready to change their health behaviors when they’re ready, not necessarily when making their open enrollment decisions or when your annual HRA goes online. You can’t impose it. But you can be positioned with the tools and resources, the voluntary interventions, and the attitude that says “I’m ready to help you when you want the help.” In that way, you’ll do more to influence the health of those you serve than all the cash, badges, gadgets, portals, and coaches you could throw at your population.


# susan Perry 2013-07-17 19:04
Exactly where we are headed. With 1500 employees and their families as part of our population, setting up a culture and environment that supports good health, and taking advantage of champions at each of our work sites is really driving our program forward.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

Add comment